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The energy levels dropped for a second time on the album with the tender ballad “Things I Won’t Get;” which had Nick McCarthy taking the mic from the Franz Ferdinand team. It’s always interesting to hear the spin that Ron puts lyrically his songs that sneak up on being a love song. This one was a double entendre on incomprehension and acquisition with the payoff being that the one by his side was all that ultimately mattered to him. That said, it was then time for the big home stretch.
I’d like to think that the jaunty [near sea shanty] tune “The Power Couple” was a sequel of sorts to my favorite song from “Gratuitous Sax + Senseless Violins.” On it, there was an amazing song called “I Thought I Told You To Stay In The Car” and I’d like to think that the people singing “The Power Couple” are expecting a visit from the protagonists from the earlier song! The levels of caste anxiety in the song were palpable. Only Ron Mael can write with this level of studied observation about subjects no one else comes within throwing distance of.
Next came the coup de grace; “Collaborations Don’t Work.” It was a stunningly self-referential mini-suite of meta-music. It was nothing less than this album’s “A Quick One While He’s Away,” with the proviso that it utterly smoked The Who at writing a rock operetta. It started simply and acoustically before morphing into an incredible series of eight different “movements” before doubling back on its main theme and then an acoustic coda. I absolutely love how the song starts out with a negative premise and then increases the intensity with each movement. By the time the song is little over half over, singers Russel Mael and Alex Kapranos are hurling accusations at each other through barely controlled voices of operatic intensity. But then you knew that’s how it would have to be. Myself, I like the slinky dark, minimal hi-tec jazz of the second verse with Bob Hardy’s subtle bass line dominating the minimal palette of the music bed. I want a whole song like that… and soon!
With “Piss Off” the album succeeds in laying down the sort of rousing anthem that sits on a short shelf that also contains “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us.” It is a joyous thing thing to hear. Their call for removing the negative people on your life in the most explicit way possible plays out in the most exuberant way possible and it’s possible to hear the unmitigated zeal in Alex and Russell’s voices in a way that’s actually breathtaking. In a world of dull automatons, they sound zestfully alive performing this robust song.
This endeth the album for the economy version of the disc. Those who purchased the executive version have another four songs. Of the quartet, “So Many Bridges” was the best. It really could have pulled its weight on the album, but then it would have had 13 songs; perhaps too many. So I understand its omission. “King Of the Song” was the weakest number here so I really get it. When the best thing it has going for it is a bridge ripped screaming out of a Wings song, then you know why it was kept off of the main disc. “Look At Me” was actually A-list material until the maladroit middle eight® stopped it dead inits tracks. Other than that, it was a marvelous number with exactly the sort of swagger that commenter Echorich alluded to in an earlier comment on this thread. “A Violent Death” was an interesting concept for a song that was hamstrung by the dreaded shuffle beat. I still maintain that there are no good songs that utilize this rhythmic crutch.
The bonus version is probably for fans only, so if you just buy the 12 track version I understand. But by all means buy this album! It is shockingly great! I’ve seen some Sparks fans looking down their noses at this as some sort of adulterated Sparks album, cut with inferior goods. I say that could not be further from the truth. The truth is, that the last 20 years of Sparks history have shown the brothers growing increasingly insular, and while it has resulted in great albums and even stunning artistic breakthroughs, they must have ran the risk of flameout. Teaming up with Franz Ferdinand was a long-delayed masterstroke. Word has it that the band approached Sparks after their first album, proposing this very team up. That it took until now was probably kismet; and probably for the better.
It was a genius move on Sparks part since the work resulted in the music having the sort of rock heft that has been missing from their efforts since the 80s. Back then, when budgets were slim, they cannily used an existing band, Gleaming Spires, as their backup band for albums like “Whomp That Sucker” and when Sparks went on hiatus between album events, their backing band were self-contained and had their own work to keep them employed. Working with Franz Ferdinand is a potentially even better arrangement. They are a world class band and it certainly shows in the music here. The resulting album has a joie de vivre that is infectious. Sparks run the risk of becoming too precious in their work, as stunning as it is, and the influx of new people with solid ideas gives this partnership a grounding that makes it truly sing. Best of all, The FFS website refers to this as their “debut album.” Implying another will one day grace our private Record Cells. Halleleujah!
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